Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Russian Nuclear Bombers Over US Territory -

Russian Nuclear Bombers Over US Territory - 

Hours before Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, two Russian nuclear-armed bombers circled the western Pacific island of Guam, an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States. This is the latest sign of the growing strategic assertiveness of Moscow towards the United States.

The Tu-95 Bear-H strategic bombers were equipped with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. The bombers were followed closely by U.S. jets.

The Washington Free Beacon reports,

Air Force Capt. Kim Bender, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Air Force in Hawaii, confirmed the incident to the Washington Free Beacon and said Air Force F-15 jets based on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, “scrambled and responded to the aircraft.”

“The Tu-95s were intercepted and left the area in a northbound direction. No further actions occurred,” she said. Bender said no other details would be released “for operational security reasons.”

The bomber incident was considered highly unusual. Russian strategic bombers are not known to have conducted such operations in the past into the south Pacific from bomber bases in the Russian Far East, which is thousands of miles away and over water.

“Every day brings new evidence that Obama’s ideological obsession with dismantling our nuclear deterrent is dangerous,” said former United Nations ambassador and former State Department internationals security undersecretary John Bolton. “Our national security is in danger of slipping off the national agenda even as the threats grow.”

F-15s were deployed from Kadena Air Base in Japan to intercept the bombers in an ongoing annual Exercise Guahan Shield 2013.

According to Defense officials the bombers carried six Kj-55 of Kh-55SM cruise missilbes that are capable of hitting targets 1,800 miles away with either a high-explosive warhead or a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead.

Currently there are about 200 U.S. Marines training on the island and it is considered a key strategic military base in the new Asia policy of the Obama administration. As a result of that policy, it has become a target for both China and North Korea who have the capability of hitting the island with missiles.

As the U.S. has said it would defend Japan in a military confrontation with China over the Senkakus and it seems that the Russian bombers are sending a signal that they are siding with China.

The White House reaffirmed in a statement on February 13, 2013 “:that the United States remains steadfast in its defense commitments to Japan, including the extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The President indicated that he looked forward to in-depth discussions when the Prime Minister visits Washington later this month.”

The Japanese Prime Minister is due to arrive at the White House on Friday February 22 to speak with Obama.

Former State Department security official Mark Groombridge said, “It shows that the Russians, like the Chinese, are not just going to sit idly by and watch the United States ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalance’ its forces toward Asia.”

“One could argue the Russians were poking a bit of fun at the Obama Administration, seeing how they flew these long-range bombers close to Guam on the same day as the state of the union address,” he added.

“But the broader implications are more profound,” Groombridge continued. “The Russians are clearly sending a signal that they consider the Pacific an area of vital national strategic interest and that they still have at least some power projection capabilities to counterbalance against any possible increase in U.S. military assets in the region.”

One has to wonder at the reduction of our nuclear arsenal by one-third in light of incidents like this. It appears that Russia is simply testing us to seem how much it can get away with and demonstrate the weakness of this administration to deal with another nuclear power.


Don’t Blink, or You’ll Miss Another Big Bank Bailout -

Don’t Blink, or You’ll Miss Another Big Bank Bailout - 

Many people became rightfully upset about bailouts given to big banks during the mortgage crisis. But it turns out that they are still going on, if more quietly, through the back door.

The existence of one such secret deal, struck in July between the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Bank of America, came to light just last week in court filings.

That the New York Fed would shower favors on a big financial institution may not surprise. It has long shielded large banks from assertive regulation and increased capital requirements.

Still, last week's details of the undisclosed settlement between the New York Fed and Bank of America are remarkable. Not only do the filings show the New York Fed helping to thwart another institution's fraud case against the bank, they also reveal that the New York Fed agreed to give away what may be billions of dollars in potential legal claims.

Here's the skinny: Late last Wednesday, the New York Fed said in a court filing that in July it had released Bank of America from all legal claims arising from losses in some mortgage-backed securities the Fed received when the government bailed out the American International Group in 2008. One surprise in the filing, which was part of a case brought by A.I.G., was that the New York Fed let Bank of America off the hook even as A.I.G. was seeking to recover $7 billion in losses on those very mortgage securities.

It gets better.

What did the New York Fed get from Bank of America in this settlement? Some $43 million, it seems, from a small dispute the New York Fed had with the bank on two of the mortgage securities. At the same time, and for no compensation, it released Bank of America from all other legal claims.

When I asked the Fed to discuss this gift to the bank, it declined. To understand how the settlement happened, we must go back to the dark days of September 2008. With the giant insurer A.I.G. teetering, the government stepped in. As part of the rescue, A.I.G. sold mortgage securities to an investment vehicle called Maiden Lane II overseen by the New York Fed. A.I.G. was bleeding from its toxic mortgage holdings, many of which were issued by Bank of America, and it received $20.8 billion for securities with a face value of $39.2 billion.

In 2011, aiming to recover some of that $18 billion loss, the insurer sued Bank of America for fraud. The case, filed in New York state court, sought $10 billion in damages from the bank, $7 billion of that related to securities that A.I.G. sold to Maiden Lane II. Bank of America, for its part, argued that A.I.G. had no standing to sue for fraud on the Maiden Lane securities. With the sale, Bank of America contended, the right to bring a legal claim against the bank for fraud passed to Maiden Lane II. That entity, controlled by the New York Fed, never brought fraud claims against the bank.

Not so fast, said A.I.G. Under New York law, which governs Maiden Lane II, an entity has to explicitly transfer the right to sue for fraud, it said. The original agreement between the New York Fed and A.I.G. never specified such a transfer, the insurer contended.

To settle this question, A.I.G. filed a separate lawsuit against Maiden Lane II in a New York court last month.

A.I.G.'s $10 billion fraud case against Bank of America, meanwhile, was moved to federal court. For pretrial purposes, the bank asked that Mariana R. Pfaelzer, a federal judge in the central district of California, oversee aspects of the case involving the bank's Countrywide unit, which was in California. Its request was granted. On Jan. 30, Judge Pfaelzer said she would rule on the issue of who owns the legal claims.

Initially, in an October 2011 letter to A.I.G., the New York Fed agreed that the insurer had the right to seek damages under securities laws on instruments it sold to Maiden Lane II.

But more recently, the New York Fed began helping Bank of America battle A.I.G. In late December, the New York Fed provided two declarations to the bank. One stated that Maiden Lane II had "intended" to receive all litigation claims relating to the mortgage securities, meaning that it alone would have had the right to sue. Another said that the October letter was not an interpretation of the Maiden Lane agreement.


Fish getting druggy on your meds - Anti-Anxiety Meds Get Into Rivers -

Fish getting druggy on your meds - Anti-Anxiety Meds Get Into Rivers - 

The modern pharmacopeia is a glorious thing—drugs have helped many people with depression and anxiety, not to mention cancer and other life-threatening diseases. But what goes down your throat must eventually come out, er, elsewhere—especially since drugs are designed specifically so they won’t break down on the pharmacy shelves or in a patient’s body. Starting in the 1990s, with the advent of super-sensitive chemical-detection technology, scientists began discovering that a lot of this medical chemistry is surviving wastewater treatment plants and flowing into waterways. That, in turn, raised a basic and troubling question: What’s it doing to the fish?

Typically, the impact of industrial chemistry on wildlife is tested using fairly basic measures of toxicity. If it doesn’t kill animals outright or prevent them from reproducing—as DDT did by causing birds to lay thin-shelled eggs—it’s not considered a clear and present threat. But with more and more psychotropic drugs like antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs flowing from factories, into consumers and out into the wild, environmental scientists have begun to worry that the meds may be affecting animal behavior too. In a paper published this week in the journal Science, Swedish researchers report that they put that question to the test—and they came up with some troubling answers.

The scientists, all affiliated with Sweden’s UmeĆ„ University, began by testing perch, a species of schooling fish, living downstream from a wastewater treatment plant. The investigators were specifically looking for traces of the anti-anxiety drug oxazepam, which has been observed in waste water before. They found the drug in the water and, when they examined muscle samples of the fish, saw it there too—but in six times the concentration it is in the river, suggesting that it builds up in the animals’ bodies over time. Next, they started afresh with a school of perch they hatched from eggs and, when they had grown, put them through a battery of tests to measure behavioral qualities thought important for perch survival, such as schooling and danger avoidance. Then they split the school into three groups: the first would live in a tank with clean water, the second would swim in water with a same concentration of oxazepam on the order of what was found in the river, and the third would get water with 500 times the river’s concentration.

Read more: http://science.time.com/2013/02/15/tipsy-fish-when-anti-anxiety-meds-get-into-rivers/?hpt=hp_t2